Think Piece

WTO Comitology: Unleashing the Potential of Governance Dimensions

December 2013
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The numerous activities of World Trade Organization (WTO) committees and working groups (the Comitology system) have received little attention. These bodies perform a number of functions including administrating treaties, providing information and exchanging views, monitoring new developments, interacting with other international organisations, and learning about new policy initiatives.

Generally, the WTO suffers from a lack of leadership in the sense that too little attention to committee work and too much rotation affects group cohesiveness. One way to address this is to devote more resources and allocate more time to chairs of committees.

Compared to other international economic organisations, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the WTO makes little use of in-house expertise. The chairs should be allowed a mandate to create ad hoc working groups that are chaired by Secretariat officials or jointly with Member representatives. If necessary, chairs can initiate the creation of ad hoc brainstorming or drafting groups, propose walks in the woods, and demand assistance and advice from outside experts and mediators in order to allow for deliberative processes to occur.

If the WTO wants to enhance overall performance, its negotiation function needs to undergo substantial procedural reforms, and its administrative capacities need to be improved. The committees can contribute towards better implementation of the existing rules and in preparing the ground for initiating a new policy agenda.

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